“You had enough to bear,” Mrs. Kenton said, in tender evasion.
“I’m glad that I had to bear so much, for bearing it is what makes me free now.” She went up to her mother and kissed her, and gazed into her face with joyful, tearful looks that made her heart sink.
Mrs. Kenton did not rest till she had made sure from Lottie and Boyne that neither of them had dropped any hint to Ellen of what happened to Bittridge after his return to Tuskingum. She did not explain to them why she was so very anxious to know, but only charged them the more solemnly not to let the secret, which they had all been keeping from Ellen, escape them.
They promised, but Lottie said, “She’s got to know it some time, and I should think the sooner the better.”
“I will be judge of that, Lottie,” said her mother, and Boyne seized his chance of inculpating her with his friend, Mr. Pogis. He said she was carrying on awfully with him already; and an Englishman could not understand, and Boyne hinted that he would presume upon her American freedom.
“Well, if he does, I’ll get you to cowhide him, Boyne,” she retorted, and left him fuming helplessly, while she went to give the young Englishman an opportunity of resuming the flirtation which her mother had interrupted.
With her husband Mrs. Kenton found it practicable to be more explicit. “I haven’t had such a load lifted off my heart since I don’t know when. It shows me what I’ve thought all along: that Ellen hasn’t really cared anything for that miserable thing since he first began going with Mrs. Uphill a year ago. When he wrote that letter to her in New York she wanted to be sure she didn’t, and when he offered himself and misbehaved so to both of you, she was afraid that she and you were somehow to blame. Now she’s worked it out that no one else was wronged, and she is satisfied. It’s made her feel free, as she says. But, oh, dear me!” Mrs. Kenton broke off, “I talk as if there was nothing to bind her; and yet there is what poor Richard did! What would she say if she knew that? I have been cautioning Lottie and Boyne, but I know it will come out somehow. Do you think it’s wise to keep it from her? Hadn’t we better tell her? Or shall we wait and see—”
Kenton would not allow to her or to himself that his hopes ran with hers; love is not business with a man as it is with a woman; he feels it indecorous and indelicate to count upon it openly, where she thinks it simply a chance of life, to be considered like another. All that Kenton would say was, “I see no reason for telling her just yet. She will have to know in due time. But let her enjoy her freedom now.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Kenton doubtfully assented.
The judge was thoughtfully silent. Then he said: “Few girls could have worked out her problem as Ellen has. Think how differently Lottie would have done it!”